This travel piece, adapted from my original full-length journals, was featured in Hong Kong Time Out Magazine on 10.10.12. Videos here, more photos here and the original article below…
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Isolated and near inaccessible, Asia’s newest nation is home to the largest UN peacekeeping mission on Earth, located in the poorest and most overlooked corner of the region. Emerging from decades of bloodshed and occupation with scarcely any infrastructure intact, war-ravaged Timor-Leste attracts just a few thousand tourists per year. Roads are amongst the world’s worst (where they exist), the airmail service is rumoured to take one-and-a-half years, the humidity is oppressive, healthcare minimal, poverty rampant and the dinky shot-up capital, Dili, makes Beirut look refined. So why would anyone care to visit?
Because travellers will discover in Timor-Leste what everyone else in Southeast Asia is hopelessly searching for. All your dreamy paradise island clichés can be found within – pristine white beaches, crystal clear azure seas, some of the richest and most diverse sea life on the planet and a queue of welcoming, unjaded locals to show you the way. Adventurous tourists will come across incredible hiking routes, thick rainforest, untouched lagoons and delicious seafood – and more often than not, you’ll be the only traveller in town. Continue reading
A variation of my article below was published at Naomi Wolf’s Dailycloudt.com and Britain’s leading liberal magazine, New Internationalist. A complete summary of CY Leung’s inauguration weekend, pro-democracy protests and SAR handover events can be found on my Hong Kong blog.
Milton Friedman has long believed Hong Kong to be the model success story of laissez-faire economics. In the eyes of the WTO, the ex-colony’s status as the world’s freest economy is an ideal for the rest of the world to aspire to. In reality, the ‘capital of capitalism’ is anything but non-interventionist and the city today should stand as a warning to libertarians and corporate defenders the world over.
Mind the gap
Although the territory has seen a huge growth in the number of millionaire residents, the local census Gini Coefficient shows inequality to be at its highest level for 30 years. As it celebrates 15 years of Chinese rule, the UNDP states that the wealthiest 10 percent of the populace control more than a third of the city’s income, whilst the bottom 10 percent share only 2 percent. A meagre minimum hourly wage of US$3.5 was only introduced last May and, with little corporate regulation or competition controls, a small handful of rich tycoons and their conglomerates reign freely. It has resulted in Hong Kong having the worse inequality amongst all OECD members; a fact that should make it a poster-boy for the failures of ‘free trade’. Yet income disparity is only set to worsen as the aging population and low birth rate give rise to an ever-shrinking workforce.
Press releases, footage and photos here. Below is a piece for New Internationalist Magazine.
Last Thursday, I attempted a citizen’s arrest of Tony Blair for crimes against peace as he was about to present a speech at Hong Kong University about faith. It seems particularly dubious for the ex-British Prime Minister to address the subject of religion, as he has done so much to enrage the Muslim world and thus set back religious tolerance by decades.
My confrontation with Blair came during the deadliest week of violence in Iraq since the US pull-out, and a day after the International Criminal Court prosecutor asked judges to hand down their first sentence to a fellow war-criminal, Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga. All current ICC investigations and prosecutions are related to African nations, yet Mr Blair’s status as an ex-Western leader does not exempt him from its founding Rome Statute, to which Britain is a signatory
Some will find the comparison absurd but there is little moral difference when the products of their respective leaderships were mass human rights violations against civilian populations. Blair has requested that people “move on” from the Iraq War yet, with documented civilian deaths now totalling at least 107,013, leading QC Michael Mansfield has confirmed that there now appears to be enough evidence to trigger an ICC investigation. Legally, the type of weaponry deployed in the war (depleted uranium and cluster bombs) can be described as ‘indiscriminate’, thus making him liable for mass civilian causalities.
My trip began much how it ended, with a half-serious enquiry as to whether I was going to die. “I’m not sure yet” was the less-than-welcome response from the attendant aboard my terribly turbulent Garuda Airlines flight. I was en route to Timor-Leste (located here), having encountered what the Germans might call a ‘luxury problem’ in that I’d seen just about everywhere else in Asia. This was the continent’s newest and poorest nation, the world’s most oil-dependent economy and home to the largest UN peacekeeping mission on Earth. Emerging from decades of bloodshed and occupation with barely any infrastructure intact, war-ravaged Timor attracts just 1,500 tourists per year. Roads are amongst the world’s worst (where they exist) the postal service is rumoured to take one-and-a-half years, the humidity is oppressive, healthcare minimal, poverty rampant and the dinky shot-up capital, Dili, would make even the most modest of British towns look like a megalopolis. It is isolated and inaccessible with just 3 ports of entry (Bali, Singapore and Darwin, Australia), so why would anyone care to visit?
This travel piece, adapted from my journals, was featured in Hong Kong Time Out Magazine on 26.10.11. More photos here.
As your flight descends into the dark heart of the Evil Axis, rumours of 50c heat, a presumed threat of kidnap and the danger of a terrorist free-for-all weigh heavily upon the mind. However, Iran’s terrifying reputation and wildly inaccurate stereotypes mask what must be one of the friendliest and safest hidden gems in all of Asia. From magnificent mosques to bustling bazaars, the Islamic Republic is home to a sophisticated culture and rich history, all showcased with a famously heartfelt level of hospitality. And as for the intense desert heat – long-suffering Hong Kongers may actually find the lack of humidity strangely tolerable.
The lightly beaten tourist trail begins in the ‘City of Love’, Shiraz. No longer a wine producer, this small city is centred around the elaborate Vakil Bazaar. The colourful marketplace comes to life at night and shoppers exploring the endless maze will find locals offering to pay for things (or even dinner!) as shopkeepers chase them down dark alleys merely to return their change.